NC firm investing into Charlotte-based companies focused on social change

CHARLOTTE — Two local startups received a big investment from on Monday from a venture capital firm focused on minority- and women-owned businesses with a social mission — not just a financial one.

North Carolina-based Equilibrium Impact Ventures is investing $75,000 in two Charlotte companies: Just Her and BatteryXchange.

Just Her is a rideshare company serving women passengers using mostly women drivers. Kimberly Evans founded the company in 2020 when she realized there must be more women like her who were afraid to use Lyft and Uber.

“I had never really taken a rideshare without my husband — only once — because of being uncomfortable and my fear factor. And i thought ‘Wow, I’m my own customer’,” said Evans.

Just Her passengers can set a preference to ride only with women drivers. Those women behind the wheel can also choose not to take a male passenger if they feel concerned for their safety.

Statistically we know that women are less likely to perpetrate crimes against each other,” said Evans. But she says the company still does extensive background checks. The app also generates a 4-digit code for both the rider and the driver to make sure they match.

Evans says Just Her has about 3,000 customers and there are 500 drivers in the pipeline right now. She added that the company pays more than other rideshare services — 75% of every fare during this early period in the company’s development. Evans told Channel 9 she’s had to tell male drivers that they may not find her app lucrative since passengers can choose not to ride with them.

“[A female passenger] has the option to opt out without penalty, because while we cannot discriminate, it is her civil right to hop into a vehicle that she feels safe in,” said Evans.

Just Her operates like a typical rideshare in Charlotte, but right now it’s focusing on prescheduled rides until it gets more drivers. Users can also preschedule rides in Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina plus Greenville, Columbia and Charleston in South Carolina. Evans says the company is also building a community around women — with a hub and social initiatives that partner with non-profit organizations that support women’s social issues, like domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking and displaced families.

Battery Xchange was founded by Desmond Wiggan, who got the idea in 2019 while studying in China when he was stressed about his phone dying after a long day of travel.

“I couldn’t call an Uber, I couldn’t tell my wife I need to get home, and so in that moment I thought, ‘why isn’t there a more convenient way for us to charge our cell phones while we’re on the go — and that was the lightbulb moment...85% of individual cell phone users don’t carry a spare charger outside of their homes.”

Users download the app, find a kiosk on the map, scan a QR code on it, then take one of the portable batteries for free. They must return the charger to any kiosk within 24 hours or pay a late fee. Wiggan says he has an algorithm for how many spaces to leave free and where the batteries are being returned to help him manage inventory at each location.

“We have paying customers, we have over 40,000 users, and we believe we found product market fit within the health system space. We’re working with the largest health system within the Carolinas in their emergency rooms and surgical waiting rooms. Now we’re looking at what growth looks like.”

And that’s where Equilibrium Impact Ventures comes in.

“I really see both of them as proven business leaders — they’re the driving force behind these businesses,” said Dr. Shante Williams, one of the three partners at Equilibrium.

Equilibrium says its mission is to support North Carolina-based startups led by women and people of color who support sustainable social impact. These investments of $75,000 each to Just Her and Battery Xchange are its first in this space. Williams said Equilibrium hopes to do another round of investments later this year, and another round of fundraising for more investments in the future.

“All three partners are committed to making sure businesses get the capital they need,” said Dr. Williams. “I refer to myself as a Capitol activist, meaning it is my job to get funding into the hands of people who can do the most good.”

You can download both Just Her and Battery Xchange apps from whichever app store you use.

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Evan Donovan

Evan Donovan, wsoctv.com

Evan is an anchor and reporter for Channel 9.